Persian food with a playful twist

2013-08-06 00:00

WHEN starting a small business, think different. That maxim has been one of the defining features of a business dreamt up around the dinner table of a family of Maritzburg food lovers, and it seems to be paying off.

Kishmish, which sells a range of fusion spice mixes, cordials, chutneys, pickles and jams influenced by a variety of global cuisines, is three years old and steadily expanding its footprint across the country.

Sharon and Amal Ma’ani started the business. It was initially based on the Midlands Meander, in 2010. Amal’s Persian background is a strong influence. The name Kishmish comes from the Persian word for raisin and their initial range of 15 products came from recipes inspired by what Amal’s mother cooked back in Iran.

They do Persian food with a twist. “We like to do things that are different,” says Sharon. “We’re influenced by our background and love for food.”

So, although in their range of cordials they have a mint-flavoured one that is a traditional Persian drink, they also have a cherry and star anise flavour and litchi, ginger and rooibos combination.

“The food we make is not purely Persian, rather it’s a blend of Middle Eastern, Asian, French and new British flavours,” says Amal. Their four children have all cooked since they were small and each family member has a different night of the week to make dinner.

The pair, who met in Cornwall when they were 16 and went to college together, have been married for 27 years. Sharon is Cornish, while Amal, who had gone there to study, remained after the revolution happened in Iran in 1980.

They came to South Africa on holiday to visit Amal’s brother who lived in Pietermaritzburg, loved it and moved here with their children in 2003. Amal had already established his graphic design business, One Circle, when they started Kishmish, allowing them to grow it slowly. While their original idea was to develop a chain of shops selling fusion food, that idea was abandoned and the focus now is on distribution, how the product is made, and training people about how to use it in their own environment.

Sharon says the idea of distributing their products came about because at their shop on the Midlands Meander they had many out-of-town visitors who wanted to be able to buy them at home. “Now we have more distributors in Johannesburg than anywhere else,” says Amal.

Their products are also found in Durban shops because of their regular presence at five Durban markets.

Kishmish also supplies retail outlets in Hilton, Pietermaritzburg, Midlands, Kloof, Underberg, Hluhluwe, Clarens, Parys and Mossel Bay. There are plans for expansion to Cape Town.

Sharon produces and packages all the products with the help of one staff member at their Winston Road premises, where they have a large kitchen. She says the business has grown organically, responding to demand, and they produce about 2 000 units of product per month.

They’re also expanding into catering and have started a business with Essence restaurant called Zesst that does events catering.

“We’re constantly learning,” says Sharon about how the business has grown. Their product range, which started with 15, is now at a comfortable 35 after being brought back down from a greater number.

“We need to keep the number of ingredients to a manageable level, and quality is important,” says Sharon. “And it’s easier for people to remember you for one special product — like our Cheeky Red Pepper Chutney.”

They’ve grown their range in direct response to the market — for example, introducing a sparkling drinks range called Sharbat because they noticed that customers at markets often wanted to drink more than just samples of their cordials.

Another element in Kishmish’s success is its branding, which Amal was responsible for. “From day one, people assumed we’d been around for a long time because of the branding and quality of packaging,” he says. “We worked hard on it because we wanted to create something that was unique.”

The brand has a playful feel about it that reflects the Ma’anis’ outlook on life and helped determine their decision to settle in Pietermaritzburg. Amal remarks that while he thinks One Circle could have done well in Johannesburg, he would have lost out on quality of life.

Instead, Sharon gave up a paying job to run Kishmish and this has meant making financial sacrifices. “It’s been tough but we see each other every day,” says Amal, referring to the fact that his studio is above the premises of Kishmish. “Being together is important … it’s about so much more than earning.”

• See


WHEN we make this at home we treat it as a complete meal, serving it with salad and some cucumber and yogurt dressing made with our Kishmish greek yogurt seasoning.

It will make at least five to six very generous servings.

It can be eaten hot or cold, so is ideal for picnics and parties.


1 tin of shredded tuna fish — in

water or oil, whichever you prefer.

About 300 g frozen small garden peas

10 to 20 g dried dill

5 cups Basmati rice

Salt for cooking rice

1 or 2 potatoes


1. Put rice in non-stick saucepan, cover with tepid water, gently stir with hand and discard the water. Do this at least three to four times to remove starch and dust from the rice. Final water should be almost clear, not cloudy.

2. Put on to stove top with no lid, on medium to high heat. Add generous amount of salt, as this will help to stop the rice from sticking together. Make sure that the level of water is at least twice the depth of the rice if not more — the rice will grow in size and absorb the water as it cooks, so there needs to be lots of water so the rice doesn’t stick together. Keep checking the rice. You are looking for the par-boiled stage, which is soft on the outside but still firm on the inside, stir gently a few times while


3. When rice is at par-boiled stage, carefully pour it through a colander. Let the water drain through gently.

4. Put the frozen peas in a bowl and pour hot water over them to help thaw and start the cooking process. Change the water if needed to help with the thawing.

5. Open the tin of tuna fish, if in water discard the water. If in oil, put the oil from the tin in the bottom or the saucepan, to which you will have to add a little more ordinary cooking oil, to make sure the bottom of the saucepan is covered in a thin layer.

6. When peas have defrosted and softened a little, drain them.

7. Take the two potatoes, clean skin and with the skin on slice them into even slices.

8. Turn heat on slightly and put saucepan back onto heat. When oil has warmed, place raw slices of

potatoes in bottom of saucepan making sure that the bottom is


9. Then assemble the rice in layers:

First a layer of rice, then a layer of dried dill, then a layer of tuna fish, then a layer of peas, then another layer of dill, then another layer of rice … Repeat until all ingredients are finished. If there are a few extra peas or dill left then do an extra layer, but finish with a layer of rice.

10. At the end heap the rice into a little mountain in the saucepan and poke three or four holes all the way through the rice with the handle of a wooden spoon.

This is to let the steam through to finish the cooking of the rice.

11. Put saucepan back on heat — a slow to medium heat.

Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t burn. Drizzle a little hot water over the rice and place the lid on the saucepan, this helps to create steam to finish cooking the rice. Keep lid on rice until ready to eat.

12. When rice is cooked, at the very end turn the heat up for a minute or two, to brown the potatoes.

13. Turn the heat off and take saucepan off the hot stove.

Get a large serving plate, bigger than the circumference of the saucepan, flatten the rice and place the serving plate over the saucepan.

14. Very carefully — with oven gloves or something to protect your hands — hold the serving dish and saucepan and turn it upside down so the rice looks like a cake when the saucepan is lifted up off the serving plate — the potatoes should be crispy and golden.

15. Serve with salad and cucumber with yogurt dressing.

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